How To Read Better - Part 3
What types of books should you read? If you are wanting to become a better reader, where do you start? Are there certain books that are seminal, must-have, here-is-where-you-start type of books? Of course it depends on so many different factors, including your age, education, context, what you are wanting to learn about and who you are wanting to learn it from. What I would like to show you is my pattern of books. Beware, it’s not a right pattern, or built from anything in particular; it just happens to be what I enjoy reading, and what helps me learn and grow.
Before we begin, here is my context: I have been a pastor for nearly 30 years now both as a volunteer and as a staff member. My wife and I planted a church nearly 8 years ago. I am a white, middle-aged, married father and grew up in an economic downturn. I went to a 4-year bible college and besides my commitment to Jesus and my family, I really love Star Wars, sushi, and Costco. And I played high school sports at a small private school.
First, I enjoy reading leadership and business books. From Jim Collins to John Maxwell, all have a perspective that helps any organization to grow and function better. Honestly, it’s much easier fo find a book with ways to grow from a business leader who has led a company of thousands of employees than it is to find a book from a pastor who has led thousands of congregants. And some of the principles of growth are the same for church and business. Not all, I’m keenly aware; but I would venture to say that church leaders can still learn a lot from the business world. By reading business and leadership books, I have learned how to lead people better, be a better time manager, run a meeting with more engagement and set team values. I've learned the importance of passion and innovation, that the customer’s experience is key and will be the key to an organization’s future, and that in any endeavor you should start with “why”.
A second category of books I am drawn to are books about psychology and sociology. Books such as The Tipping Point, Never Eat Alone, Freakonomics, New and Originals are absolutely fascinating to glean from. Learning what makes people tick, what makes us lean toward certain decisions, and how we process information and emotions are all topics that interest me, probably because of how people interest me. Malcolm Gladwell’s works are the best in this category for me, hands down. The Tipping Point gave so much insight into “what makes an idea stick”, that it transformed how I approach my sermons in trying to share about Jesus in a way that would “stick” for an outsider. Leaders can lead more effectively if they have people skills and people savvy, and reading these kinds of books will help.
For several years now, I find myself buying and reading books about race, black history and the minority experience in America. My wife’s parents both came to the U.S. as political refugees from Castro’s Cuba, met here, married, and had a beautiful daughter who I am privileged to be married to. This has opened my understanding to how subtle comments and statements can be ignorant and unkind. Racism and bias are in all of us to some extent, but the human experience is a common ground that we need to come back to. Growing up, I found myself to be ignorant of how people from other cultures were treated, and how painful their experiences have sometimes been. To read about this gives me some insight and hopefully some understanding of what has happened, why it happened, and how I can take responsibility for treating all people better and with more dignity not just because of compassion, but because of informed compassion. There are some very liberal and very conservative books I have read on the subject—all of which give me eyes into the world and feelings of my fellow Americans. Break through your own ignorance, and occasionally read about someone who grew up differently than you did. It will benefit all of us.
Next, I have added to my repertoire some books that are written by “Dead Poet’s Society” authors. I have begun to intentionally read authors who have long ago passed on this planet. I credit Pastor Rick Warren for this suggestion to read more than just the hottest book on the market, and to find and read authors who broke ground (and some were killed for their writings) with their ideas and their stands for orthodoxy and biblical faith. Last year I completed a book by Athanasius that was written around year 350 or so. Bonhoeffer was killed in World War II, but that is nearly 100 years ago now, and his material is incredibly insightful. Currently I am making my way through The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas A Kempis, who wrote during the 1400’s—it is not easy to read, this one, but it is a classic for a reason, and his life causes me to want to be more dedicated to Christ. You might start with Knowledge of the Holy, by A. W. Tower, who writes about the nature of God in a way that is gripping and faith-building. I am hoping to one day read City of God, by Augustine, a huge volume, but also an important work. Historians like Josephus and Eusebius have great insights into the Christian mindset at that time of the first several centuries A.D.
There are times when I will read a book by a Christian author that is a topical book, from a Christian perspective. These are mostly by "Alive Authors" (as compared to the previous paragraph), and vary in content from marriage, to the letters of Paul the Apostle, how to forgive, how to pray, how to share your faith effectively, etc. In Christianity as a whole, these are the most popular, and are the most stocked at your local book store. There is a lot of help in some of these, but beware, some of these are really just a Pastor’s sermon series turned into a book. Nothing wrong with that; but I have listened to some of my favorite speakers on the internet, then bought their book, only to find out that it’s merely a repeat of their sermons. More benefit is found for me in finding a book that is deeper in content than a speech put into a cover. None the less, I have gained much from reading popular Christian content.
History books are one of my favorite categories. I am currently reading my sixth book in Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard’s “Killing” series. Wonderful stuff, and these and others have helped the world to make more sense to me. It is delightful to know something about the world when it comes up in conversation. Understanding history lends wisdom to the analysis of events happening around us today.
Finally, I will read material that is written specifically to pastors. Some of these may be theology books to help me understand the essence of what is being communicated in the Scriptures, and some of them are books designed to help me function in my calling as a shepherd/pastor. Eugene H. Patterson’s The Pastor, A Memoir, was a drink of cold water to my soul when I devoured it as a younger church-planter. And Sam Chand’s Leadership Pain was a healing balm for me in 2017, so I am a better pastor today because of these and other pastors sharing their experiences in type. Any works by N.T. Wright are fantastic on the theology side of things.
Notice that I don’t read fiction...I know. I know! YOU should read some fiction. I just don’t do it much. I want to, I really do, but for now, my intellectual world is fueled by the literature styles listed above. But that is the beauty of reading! Pick what interests you and start to learn.
Part 4 of this “Read Better” series will focus on what to do with the book when you are done with it. This is perhaps the part of this series I am most eager to share with you.